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It’s time the UK government takes action to stop Israeli war crimes

5 min read

The occupation is a daily aggression on Palestinian lives. The two-state solution must not be a simple fig leaf policy to hide inaction, but a reality for the people of Israel and Palestine.

The international community including the UK has a vital role to play in the horrific events unfolding once again in Israel and Palestine.  We have been here so many times before.  Each time it gets worse. Each time we fail to learn the lessons of the previous wars. Each time we leave untouched the very root causes that led to violence in the first place.  Each time those who commit war crimes on all sides face no accountability for their actions.

We hear endless calls from Ministers for “de-escalation”, for “the restoration of peace” and the need to “restore calm.”  But what does this mean?

Ministers always emphasise above all else that Hamas must end their rocketing of Israeli civilians, actions that are war crimes and do nothing to advance Palestinian rights or interests. In fact, they set them in reverse. As innocent Israeli civilians hide in fear under this barrage of rockets from Hamas – over a thousand so far – the illegal plans in Jerusalem become easier to advance.

Israel does have a right to defend itself against these rocket attacks, but this right is within a framework of international humanitarian law. Israel must resist what it has done in previous wars when it has used disproportionate force and flattened whole areas of Gaza. Israeli protestations that they take due care simply do not stack up with the overwhelming evidence on the ground including from Israeli soldiers.  

This is part of a system of apartheid which has to be dismantled to produce calm and to de-escalate

When the planes, rockets and guns fall silent, what then?

Will Ministers insist that all threats to dispossess Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah end as part of this de-escalation, that all Palestinians homes in Silwan and elsewhere in Jerusalem will not be demolished? Will settlement building on occupied land be bought to a halt?

When there is a pause in the war, and it is only ever a pause, will we as previously simply move on or this time will we have the courage to lean-in heavily on the fundamentals so that this doesn’t happen again.

The occupation is now 54 years long. It is a daily aggression on Palestinian lives.

Palestinians in Gaza, the age of my children, have endured a major war every 2-3 years of their life as well as the all too regular Israeli bombing and shelling. The occupation, the failure of Palestinian leadership and an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since 2007, and the despair of statelessness, has made life for these young people unbearable as they live surrounded by the rubble of homes flattened by Israeli bombing in earlier wars.

Almost certainly they will have never left the Gaza Strip, an area the size of the Isle of Wight. They have to drink water that the WHO says is not even fit for animals. They will have no reasonable prospect of jobs and a decent life.

Only by ending the blockade once and for all, can Palestinians in Gaza begin to build a decent life and a productive economy.  

In 2010, David Cameron was clear "Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp." In 2021, it remains a prison camp just with more inmates.

In the occupied West Bank, Palestinians cannot leave without going through Israeli checkpoints and without Israel’s permission. This even applies to the Palestinian Foreign Minister who had his Israeli-issued travel permit confiscated in March.

In the West Bank, Palestinians and Israeli settlers’ live side by side. The former legality but under military law without the most basic of utilities. The latter 630,000 strong and illegally present yet governed by civilian law and living in relative luxury. Two peoples live in the same area under differing legal systems. That is not calm.

As Human Rights Watch, the Israeli human rights group, B’tselem and Palestinian human rights groups have determined, this is part of a system of apartheid which has to be dismantled to produce calm and to deescalate.

For decades the British government and its allies issue statements but do nothing to deter Israel from war crimes such as settlements, forced evictions and home demolitions. This is ethnic cleansing.  

I visited Khan Al Ahmar, a Palestinian Bedouin community east of Jerusalem, one of many that face being forced out. It has a small school that is one of the 53 in the West Bank, Israel has slated for demolition. They are just waiting for the day the bulldozers come.

The only way to honour the innocent civilians being killed, injured and terrorised now is to ensure this never happens again, and those responsible are brought to justice.

The government’s position on the ICC engaging on Palestine has been deplorable and flies in the face of the foreign secretary’s mantra of accountability and human rights we heard recently in the context of China at the recent G7.

It is time we showed that International law counts for all suffering and that those who commit crimes know that one day they might face the long arm of justice at the International Criminal Court.

Israel is a friend and we must not stand by and let it continuously self-harm.

We do our friends a disservice by sending a signal that there will be no cost or consequences for its policies towards the Palestinians. Total Impunity for bad behaviour is a terrible idea in any walk of life – and Israelis right now, with its prolific rise in far right extremism, are experiencing in very sad ways with loss of innocent lives the upshot of having internalised the message that the Palestinian issue can be left to fester and that Israel can get away with anything.

It is time to end the occupation and give equal worth and support to both states, Israel and Palestine. It’s time to ensure the two-state solution is not a simple fig leaf policy to hide inaction but a reality for the people of Israel and Palestine.


Baroness Warsi is a Conservative member of the House of Lords and co-chair of the APPG on Palestine. 

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